an experience that produces psychological injury or pain
Trauma is an emotional response to a serious event like an accident, natural disaster, physical danger, or abuse. A traumatic event can involve a single experience, or an enduring or repeating event or events. Immediate responses include shock and denial; and longer-term effects can consist of emotional, relational, and physical problems.
Traumatic experiences overwhelm an individual’s ability to deal with or integrate the circumstances and emotions involved with the experience as they struggle to cope with the immediate situation. The results of these experiences can be delayed by weeks, years or even decades, and can lead to serious long-term negative consequences. Sometimes people don’t recognize that they’ve experienced trauma because the event is no longer a threat.
Traumatic events come in many forms and are generally distinguished from more commonplace misfortunes by the severity of the event and the intensity of a person’s reactions to it. Psychological trauma can result from a single, one-time traumatic event such as physical or sexual assault, car accidents, natural disasters, and deaths. It can also include responses to chronic or repetitive stressful experiences such as long-term sexual and/or physical abuse, battering relationships, bullying, and combat.
Different people can react differently to similar events. One person may perceive an event to be traumatic that another may not, and not all people who experience a traumatic event will become psychologically traumatized. Most trauma survivors are unfamiliar with the effects of trauma and often have difficulty understanding the problems they are experiencing. Survivors can feel like they are “going crazy” or that there is something seriously wrong with them. Some common effects of trauma include:
- Intrusive memories or flashbacks, possibly including nightmares
- Exaggerated startle response (“jumpy”)
- Problems with self-esteem
- Depression, despair, hopelessness, fear and/or anxiety
- Self-blame, guilt, and shame
- Problems in interpersonal relationships
- Alcohol and/or drug abuse
- Physical health symptoms and problems
Treatment for trauma resolution includes evaluating the presenting symptoms and determining whether the trauma is the result of a situational or ongoing event. Treatment includes helping clients learn about trauma and its effects; addressing the symptoms in small, manageable segments; therapeutic assignments addressing negative thoughts and beliefs; therapeutic techniques such as DBT, CBT, EMDR; journaling; forming a support system; exercise and relaxation techniques; and increasing positive, enjoyable activities.
Traumatic events will never be forgotten; but, with proper treatment and support, clients can greatly reduce or eliminate problematic symptoms and behaviors. The therapists at The New Leaf Center are highly trained and experienced to help clients address trauma issues and relieve mental and emotional stressors.